New Mexico is experiencing an elevated number of cases of hand, foot and mouth disease.
Chad Smelser, M.D., an infectious disease epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health, confirmed the entire state is experiencing an increased number of people who seek information about the treatment of the disease.
The disease commonly affects children and infants under the age of 5, but can affect adults. When it does present in adults, many may not experience any symptoms, which include fever, mouth sores, skin rash and blisters on the palms of hands or soles of the feet.
“Outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease are not uncommon,” Smelser said. In fact, a recent publication by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed March outbreaks of the disease in Alabama, Connecticut, California and Nevada. Smelser said this does not mean there was not an outbreak in New Mexico; it simply means the state was not mentioned in the publication.
“It’s such a common disease. … It’s not a reportable condition,” Smelser said. “We don’t track it over time.” However, Smelser said people contact the department of health for information on how to prevent and treat it. He said he has noticed an increase in these sorts of calls over the past few months. The increase in people seeking information about the disease is happening statewide, he added.
Smelser said the increased number of cases “could be just a natural cycle of the virus.” He said the outbreak could also be due to school being in session. The disease is transmitted through saliva, mucus, blister fluid or the stool of an infected person; making it rampant among children in a school setting.
To prevent the disease, Smelser suggested washing hands frequently, disinfecting areas and surfaces, avoiding close contact with those who may have the disease, and avoiding the sharing of utensils. Those presenting symptoms of the virus should remain home, Smelser said.
Over-the-counter treatments can be used to help those infected feel better, Smelser said. As a viral disease, there isn’t much else that can be done, he noted.
“There’s not a whole lot of medications against viral diseases,” he said. The disease usually runs its course within four to five days. Although there may be complications from the disease, Smelser said very rarely is it fatal.
Smelser said most people have been exposed to the virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease by the time they are adults.
This should not be confused with foot-and-mouth disease, a disease of cattle, sheep and swine, said Jeanette St. Pierre, associate director for communication science for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The two diseases are caused by different viruses and are not related,” St. Pierre said in an email statement. “Humans do not get the animal disease, and animals do not get the human disease.”
St. Pierre said information about the signs and symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease can be found at cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/about/signs-symptoms.html. She said information about prevention can be accessed at cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/about/prevention-treatment.html.